Taliban, US Will Join Russia-Hosted Conference for First Time

In a departure from India’s stand on engaging the Taliban New Delhi has announced it would participate at a “non-official” level sending two former senior diplomats to attend talks on the Afghanistan peace process to be held in Russia on Thursday

In a departure from India’s stand on engaging the Taliban New Delhi has announced it would participate at a “non-official” level sending two former senior diplomats to attend talks on the Afghanistan peace process to be held in Russia on Thursday

But Russia's foreign ministry focused attention on the spectacle of delegates from both sides of the line in Afghanistan sitting together at Moscow's President hotel, alongside representatives from Iran, China, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. This will be the first appearance by the Taliban at such an worldwide conference, Zakharova emphasized.

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India will be participating in a meeting on Afghanistan being hosted by Russian Federation, but at a "non-official level".

In a statement issued this week by the Taliban, the group said: "Taliban political envoys will attend the meeting but the participation does not mean they will hold talks with anyone".

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday voiced hope that a conference on Afghanistan taking place in Moscow could help pave the way for peace talks. "He was released to provide impetus to the peace and reconciliation efforts in Afghanistan", said Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Faisal.

The Afghan government and the Taliban both denied that the conference marked direct negotiations for peace.

Sources told IANS that Amar Sinha, former Secretary in the External Affairs Ministry who also served as India's Ambassador to Afghanistan, and T.C.A. Raghavan, former Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan, will represent New Delhi at the Moscow talks.

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This will be the first time that India will be sharing talks table with the Afghan Taliban on issues of peace and stability in Afghanistan. This time, the Afghan government hasn't sent its envoys, but several members of the government-appointed Peace Council are attending the event.

On Wednesday, an unnamed spokesperson for the U.S. State Department reportedly confirmed that, in coordination with Kabul, the U.S. embassy in Moscow "will send a representative to the working level to observe the discussions". This week, the White House's special representative for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, is touring the region, tasked with pressing the Taliban and the government to form negotiating teams.

The Taliban are fighting the USA -backed Kabul government to re-impose strict Islamic law and have stepped up attacks in strategic provinces.

However, the head of the political office of Taliban in Qatar Mullah Abbas Stanikzai said the ongoing conflict is not a war among the Afghan tribes and has links with the presence of the foreign forces.

"India's consistent policy has been that such efforts should be Afghan-led, Afghan-owned, and Afghan-controlled, and with the participation of the government of Afghanistan".

In his speech during the Moscow Summit, Haji Din Mohammad urged the Taliban group to positively respond to the offers of the Afghan government regarding peace process, emphasizing that the ongoing conflict claims the lives of ordinary Afghans. The latest talks occurred last month where newly appointed special envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalamay Khalilzad, led the USA team. "It is a meeting on Afghanistan in Moscow".

In both cases, the U.S. has had an active military presence inside the countries.

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